When it comes to advances made by the human race, we owe a lot to the plants and animals that surround us. While many discoveries began before the dawn of recorded time, they continue to inspire many of our greatest advances, both great and small.
The earliest example is so obvious that it's become cliche. No one wants to reinvent the wheel, but at some point, a distant caveman cousin did just that. Or, possibly the invention predates cavemen. After all, you would probably need something with wheels to move your prehistoric stuff into a prehistoric cave.
Regardless of time frame, imagine that moment. A caveman (or cavewoman) was grumbling about all the stuff that needed to be dragged from hunting ground to hunting ground. Then, an aha moment.
Our creative caveperson saw something blowing across the ground. As the thought, "I wish I could do that," floated through their primitive brain, the word "Eureka," was invented. Soon after, we had carts, then wagons, then Ferraris.
Our ability to observe the world around us and reinvent something that already exists is one of our most innate abilities. Once we understand what we see, we steal liberally for the purpose of self-advancement.
Doubt me? Consider these examples.
Suction cups? Invented in the third century B.C., probably after someone observed an octopus, and saw the suckers it has on each arm to grip items underwater.
Sonar? Invented by people inspired by animals like dolphins and bats who use sound to find objects underwater or in the dark.
Scotch tape? Invented by a lab technician trying to create an adhesive that could be removed as easily as it was applied, the same way a gecko chooses whether to stick to an object.
Not all of us are inventors or technically minded, but the same observations can be made about many of our traditions and habits.
You have to wonder what the creatures we mimic would think about our actions, if they cared.
They probably think we're crazy.
We mimic birds in our desire to surround ourselves with shiny things. We not only decorate our homes, but also our bodies. Despite this consistent desire, every person is unique when it comes to the quantity of stuff we collect and its bling level.
Fish also have to look at us strangely. Unlike them, we can't breathe underwater, yet we love to invade their home. We splash in it and use it to cool off, despite the risk it poses.
And, at night, our lives are inspired by caterpillars that become butterflies as we lose energy and cocoon ourselves only to wake up a different and more energetic animal.
What's the lesson to learn from all of this? We make the most of our lives when we incorporate what we observe into it. When we see what makes one person happy or sad or angry and excited, we apply that knowledge to others to elicit or avoid the same reaction.
Doing that is one of our most important responsibilities. Going out of our way to help others is a strength that should be nurtured and encouraged. Knowingly causing pain should be abandoned if we want to be considered decent and caring people.
In the end, we should strive to be like bees. Solitary creatures who frequently go off on their own to do their own thing, they always go back to their hive to advance the needs of their society.
When they do return, they share new knowledge for the betterment of all, another trait we learned by observing nature.
You never know when you're going to have an aha moment. Never forget that the most significant of advances, great or small, can come from the most simple of observations.
After all, Velcro was invented by a man who questioned why seed pods always stuck to his clothes.
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Erick Rommel works for a nonprofit youth organization. He can be reached at